"Atonement" filmmakers victorious in battle

Thu Dec 13, 2007 7:48am EST
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By Carolyn Giardina

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The gorgeously rendered adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel "Atonement" -- and one shot in particular -- is generating attention.

The Dunkirk retreat at the beach during World War II is told through a continuous Steadicam shot that lasts five minutes and 20 seconds.

The ambitious shot, which follows lead character Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) and two additional soldiers as the vastness of the situation is revealed -- was filmed in only 90 minutes with four takes (the third was used as the fourth was abandoned when the light began shifting). Between cast, crew and extras, the shot involved nearly 1,500 people and was the most expensive sequence in the production.

Director Joe Wright said a more elaborate scene was originally planned, including a walk to the beach and bombings. But because of budget constraints, they were not an option. "We had to lose all of that," the director said. "We could only afford the extras for one day."

Added director of photography Seamus McGarvey: "We were working at a difficult time -- the light was best at the end of the day. We knew we had this window, maybe four takes at most."

A miniature of the location -- the northern English town of Redcar -- was built to plan the shot and figure out how to maximize the use of the extras. The sequence also was carefully choreographed beforehand.

Wright said that after the London premiere, the team returned to Redcar for a special screening.

"They closed the town down and had a street party," he said. "It was a big event, and they erected a sculpture on the beach in commemoration of 'Atonement' shooting there. To give a community like that -- which is very depressed economically -- something to be proud of is as important if not more important than the final film or the premieres. That's what counts."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

<p>Director Joe Wright gestures during a photocall session in Venice August 29, 2007. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>